91. The Mistake that Wasn’t

91. The Mistake that Wasn’t

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Power of Forgiveness

The Mistake that Wasn’t

Love yourself—accept yourself—forgive yourself—and be good to yourself, because without you the rest of us are without a source of many wonderful things.

~Leo F. Buscaglia

Giving birth should be one of the happiest times in a woman’s life. However, when it’s the mid-60s and the woman is single, it can be one of the worst things imaginable. I hadn’t planned on getting pregnant, but I hadn’t done anything to prevent it either. Since the baby’s father denied any responsibility and my parents were disinclined to help, the options for dealing with my pregnancy were few: I could have the baby and try to raise it on my own (unheard of in those days), I could seek an abortion (illegal in those days) or I could have the child and give it up for adoption.

Early in my pregnancy, my parents instructed me to stay away from their house. “We don’t want all the neighbors knowing.”

I moved in with a girlfriend, but as time went by and I continued to grow larger, she suggested I live elsewhere. “My boyfriend feels uncomfortable having you around.”

I checked out some homes for unwed mothers, but I was in my twenties and the idea of living with a bunch of pregnant teenagers left me cold. I contacted my pastor and he suggested an adoption agency that would not only help me find a place to live, they would also pay all my medical expenses. All I had to do was agree to allow the agency to place my child “in a loving home” once he or she was born. I could see no other solution.

Rather than accept the offer of living with a host family, I continued to work and lived in a motel. It was an expense I really didn’t want, but it had a small kitchen area so I saved money by not having to eat in restaurants. On the day my water broke, I was having a rare lunch with my mother who, instead of driving me to the hospital, told me to “Get in your car and go.” The hospital was twenty miles away but, trying to hold back the contractions, I drove myself, stopping only long enough to fill up the gas tank.

When I arrived at the hospital, an attendant helped me from my car and a nurse put me in a wheelchair and headed for the elevators and then to the labor room. Alone in the room, I wondered about everything that was going to happen. Would I experience a lot of pain? Would my child be a boy or a girl? What would happen if there were complications and my child didn’t survive? No one answered my questions; no one held my hand; no one heard my screams.

After my son was born, I was moved into a room with three other women who had also just given birth. One, like me, spent a lot of time crying; the other two could only talk about what they planned to do when they got out. An elderly nurse brought in some papers for me to sign and asked if I wanted to see my child. Signing those papers meant I was voluntarily giving up my firstborn child. I wouldn’t see him take his first step. I wouldn’t walk him to his first day at school. I wouldn’t see him graduate, get married or have children. How could I, as a mother, do such a thing? How could I just turn my back and look away? I bit my lip, shook my head and signed the papers.

Upon being discharged from the hospital, I drove back to the motel, collected my belongings and moved into a small studio apartment. Although the doctors had advised me to take six weeks to recover, my funds were running short and I needed to return to work immediately. Luckily, I found a job close to the apartment and spent my days leaning over a typewriter and my nights crying into a pillow. Where was my son? Was he being cared for? Did anyone comfort him when he cried?

As the pain of losing my child lessened, another grew. Even though society and my parents frowned on the idea of illegitimate children, I was the one who had given up my son. I had signed the papers. I had walked out of the hospital without him. I could have kept him. I could have found a way. But no, I took the easy way out and gave him up. Everything that happened had been my fault. I knew I would never forgive myself.

Over the next years, I went from one relationship to another. No one could ease my pain. I eventually married but, as might have been expected, even that ended in divorce. I couldn’t love myself and therefore couldn’t love anyone else. The only thing on my mind was my child. A day didn’t go by that I didn’t think about him. What did he look like? Was he happy? Did his parents love him?

Shortly before my son’s twenty-eighth birthday, I received a telephone call from the adoption agency stating that the child I had given up for adoption had been making inquiries about me. “He wants to know if you would like to meet him.”

“Would I like to meet him?” Never had I thought anyone would ever ask me such a question.

“Of course I would,” I replied. However, after going over all the details and hanging up the phone, I began to worry. Why did he want to meet me? Was he sick? Did he need money? What if he just wanted to tell me he hated me? After all, I had never forgiven myself for giving him away… why wouldn’t he hate me?

We met at the agency, shook hands and fell into an immediate embrace. We cried, we talked, we shared pictures and we hugged some more. He had been placed in a home with two brothers and two sisters, all adopted, and his parents had been kind, understanding and loving. Instead of condemning me for giving him up, he thanked me. “I know it must have been hard, but you did everything you could to make sure I had a good life.”

My son had forgiven me… it was finally time for me to forgive myself.

~Margaret Nava

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